Breaking Down Bowl Eligibility with 2 Weeks to Go

I can’t believe I am typing this. But there are just two weeks left in our simulated regular season and my end-of-season sadness is already starting to set in. But wait! We have bowl season still ahead of us! College football is so great because it gives teams a chance to keep playing for something, even after they have been eliminated from national title or conference title contention. The extra reps and team bonding these bowling programs benefit from works wonder for the season to come. The tricky thing about bowl season, is that with a fixed number of bowl slots, it depends on the season on how many teams will be in fact, bowl eligible. Sometimes, 5-7 teams get invites. Sometimes, bowl eligible teams get left at home. This year, there are 84(!!) bowl spots available. Luckily, with no sanctions this year, everyone came in eligible. Let’s break this down by conference and see who has clinched a spot, who is eliminated, and who has work to do.

AAC

Bowl Eligible: (6) Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU, South Florida, Tulsa, UCF

Eliminated: (1) East Carolina

Work to Do: (4) Houston, Navy, Temple, Tulane

The American is having a very strong season. While they may not have the juggernaut we’ve seen in the past few years, the league is very competitive from top to bottom. When looking at the four teams whose postseason status is still in doubt, let’s see their remaining schedule.

HOU (5-5): at SMU, Tulsa

NAVY (5-5): at South Florida, vs. Army

TEM (5-5): East Carolina, Cincinnati

TUL (4-6): at Tulsa, Memphis

The Green Wave have their work cut out for them with two challenging games they both need. Temple needs to beat ECU, because Cincy will prove tough, even in Philly. Navy could help out a lot of bowl schedulers by beating USF Saturday, because otherwise, they will have to wait until Army-Navy to be able to potentially invite the Mids to one of their games. This almost “paralyzed” the bowl system back in 2016, when Navy was close to grasping the New Year’s Six spot for the Group of 5. Luckily, that ended up okay. Let’s hope for the same here, because this could get very messy. Houston has two tougher games, but it definitely has a shot, primarily at home vs. the Golden Hurricane. PREDICTIONS: Navy, Temple become eligible; Houston, Tulane miss out

ACC

Bowl Eligible: (7) Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

Eliminated: (3) Boston College, NC State, Syracuse

Work to Do: (4) Miami, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Wake Forest

The ACC does not have a lot of great teams after Clemson. Louisville may in fact be one. I will say the conference has more “good” teams than they usually do. Here are the teams on the bubble.

MIA (5-5): at Georgia Tech, Duke

PITT (5-5): at Virginia, Syracuse

UVA (4-6): Pittsburgh, at Virginia Tech

WF (5-5): Clemson, Boston College

This week’s Virginia vs. Pitt game will prove huge for both sides, but more so for the Cavaliers. UVA needs to win both games, and they are both pretty challenging ones at that. If Pitt slips up, they should be able to handle Syracuse at home, but the Panthers are sliding. Wake Forest has an almost certain loss next, but BC should be beatable at home. Miami has two very winnable games, but also very losable games as well. The Canes should be talented enough. PREDICTIONS: Pitt, Miami, Wake all bowl; Virginia doesn’t

Big XII

Bowl Eligible: (7) Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech

Eliminated: (2) Kansas, West Virginia

Work to Do: (1) TCU

The Big XII gets back to having at least 70% of their league eligible for a bowl, which is a marvelous feat. Somewhat similar to the American, they are a very balanced conference. However, I don’t feel they have any serious playoff contenders, which is huge knock against this league in 2020. The two bottom feeders have given the rest of the teams almost certain wins, with one team still playing for the postseason.

TCU (5-5): Texas Tech, at Kansas

While the Frogs have been inconsistent, they should be able to get to a bowl game. Texas Tech at home will be tricky, but it looks like a toss up, with maybe an edge to TCU. I know what I said about the bottom feeders being certain wins, and Kansas remains on the schedule. However, TCU lost to West Virginia already, so maybe KU can play spoiler. PREDICTION: TCU returns to a bowl game after their 1-year absence

Big Ten

Bowl Eligible: (9) Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin

Eliminated: (3) Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers

Work to Do: (2) Illinois, Maryland

The Big Ten has 9 bowl teams for the third straight season and is looking for more. The Big Ten has a playoff favorite, two contenders, and a longshot still in play. They also have a meaty, second tier of teams that is very solid, featuring seven win teams like Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Minnesota. While the bottom has been quite bad, props to teams like Maryland and Illinois, who are surprisingly still playing for more than just pride.

ILL (5-5): Ohio State, at Northwestern

MD (4-6): at Penn State, Michigan State

Maryland needs both. If they can shock the world by winning in Happy Valley against a top 5 Penn State, they will be huge favorites to pull it off in Week 13 against Sparty. Illinois could shock the world themselves with OSU coming to town. But they don’t need that one as badly as the Terps need to defeat the Lions. The Illini travel north to Evanston for Rivalry Week, most likely in a do or die game to extend their season. PREDICTIONS: Illinois pulls an upset, makes it 2 straight bowls; Maryland can’t get it done

Conference-USA

Bowl Eligible: (6) Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, UAB

Eliminated: (3) Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, UTEP

Work to Do: (5) FIU, North Texas, Rice, UTSA, Western Kentucky

C-USA is a little deeper than the last two years, with a great top tier of UAB, Southern Miss, and Marshall. But they are still a far cry from what they once were 5-10 years ago. The sheer amount of bowl teams they may have prevents them from being the worst FBS conference. There will be some intense games the last couple weeks, with seasons barely hanging in the balance.

FIU (5-5): at Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech

UNT (4-6): Rice, at UTSA

RICE (5-5): at North Texas, UTEP

UTSA (5-5): at Southern Mississippi, North Texas

WKU (4-6): FIU, at Charlotte

There are two games this weekend between the teams listed here. WKU needs to defend home field against the desperate Panthers, before heading to surging Charlotte in need of a road finale victory. If FIU can’t pull off the road win in Bowling Green, they’ll head home to take on a solid LA Tech squad. They need one of those two to keep playing. North Texas has the luxury of playing two teams still playing for a postseason, by hosting Rice this Saturday and then traveling to the Alamodome. Those games will be extremely fun to watch, and the Mean Green need them both. If Rice can’t defeat them, they will have a home date with UTEP, which is probably the best news for a C-USA opponent. UTSA will travel to Hattiesburg to take on a motivated Southern Miss squad. They will be big underdogs, but will have a shot against UNT the following week. PREDICTIONS: WKU, North Texas defeat odds, make bowl along with Rice; UTSA, FIU can’t get the final win

MAC

Bowl Eligible: (4) Buffalo, Central Michigan, Ohio, Western Michigan

Eliminated: (4) Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Northern Illinois

Work to Do: (4) Akron, Ball State, Miami (OH), Toledo

The MAC has been in freefall towards the bottom of the FBS the last few years, but that doesn’t mean it’s a league with a ridiculous amount of parity and you should watch it every chance you get. This 4-4-4 setup we have going on here is remarkable, and with a lot of teams still with undecided futures, these mid-week games can always deliver with some craziness.

AKR (4-6): Western Michigan, at Ohio

BALL (4-6): at Central Michigan, at Toledo

MIAOH (5-5): Kent State, Eastern Michigan

TOL (5-5): at Northern Illinois, Ball State

While Miami and Toledo have seen division title dreams gone down the drain recently, they still should have no issue reaching a bowl game, needing one win and facing fairly easy competition. I would recommend winning both though, as 6-6 MAC teams have been far from a sure thing in terms of actually getting bowl invites come December. Ball State was just upset by EMU, making their final two games infinitely more challenging. Now, they need to upset the division leading Chippewas on the road to get their shot against the Rockets. Let’s give Akron a hand for even being on this list this late in the season. But, the Zips face two solid teams, and will likely lose both pretty handily. PREDICTION: Everything goes as expected, Redhawks, Rockets give the MAC six bowl teams, as the Cardinals and Zips spend Christmas at home.

Mountain West

Bowl Eligible: (6) Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State, Wyoming

Eliminated: (4) Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, Utah State

Work to Do: (2) Hawaii, San Jose State

The Group of 5 does not have any dominant teams like we’ve seen in years past, and the MW is a big part of that. The top tier has been susceptible to upsets this year, so we don’t know how the end of this league’s slate will shake out. The final two teams may decide the conference’s fate as a successful or a disappoint season.

HAW (5-6): at San Jose State, at San Diego State

SJSU (5-5): Hawaii, at Fresno State

The Rainbow Warriors are one of a few teams that will play 13 regular season games in 2020. If the Bows win both of their remaining games, they’re in. If they go 1-1, they’ll get the nod over any 5-7 team, should their not be enough bowl teams. There is huge difference there. If Hawaii wants to avoid rooting for things out of their control, they should take care of business themselves. They’ll start in a massive game between two teams looking for win #6. Then, Hawaii will head to San Diego, looking for a massive upset. Should the Spartans not defend home turf against Hawaii, they will have to defeat the rival Bulldogs in Fresno, a tall task. PREDICTION: Both the Warriors and Spartans miss out on a postseason, leaving the MW with six bowl teams.

Pac-12

Bowl Eligible: (7) Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah

Eliminated: (2) UCLA, Washington State

Work to Do: (3) Colorado, Oregon State, Washington

The Pac-12 is quite the conundrum. Until they start fielding multiple top 25 caliber programs, they will not reach the other Power 5 conferences. Oregon has put together a great season, but the huge non-conference loss to the Buckeyes still looms large, and has impacted the conference’s national outlook as a whole. Until USC, UCLA, and Washington become perennial contenders alongside Oregon, the Pac-12 will struggle. Things are trending upwards for a few programs, though.

COLO (4-6): at Washington, Utah

ORST (5-5): Arizona, Oregon

UW (4-6): Colorado, at Washington State

Let’s give a hand to Jonathan Smith and the Beavers. After being one of the Power 5 bottom-feeders for the last half-decade, Oregon State has a very real chance to go bowling. The Beavs do have quite the test Rivalry Week vs. the Ducks. However, this week against Arizona is there for the taking. If they can defend Reser Stadium, they will get there. It won’t come easy. Colorado and Washington face off this week, and while the winner stays alive for postseason contention, the loser is officially eliminated. Keep an eye on this one. Colorado does have the Utes next week, so odds are, UW has a better chance. The Huskies have a much better chance against rival WSU. Still plenty to be decided. PREDICTION: Washington finishes strong, clinches a bowl, while OSU gets the job done; Buffs miss out

SEC

Bowl Eligible: (9) Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M

Eliminated: (5) Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

There appears to be quite the difference between bottom-feeders and favorites in the SEC. The ineligible teams have been quite bad this year. There is not a whole lot to sort out here in terms of bowl eligibility, so let’s discuss the Playoff contenders.. Alabama is an odds on favorite. Florida, Auburn, and LSU all have a very real shot to make it as well. This league could get two teams in, for the second time in CFP history. The SEC is still is the premier conference of college football.

Sun Belt

Bowl Eligible: (5) Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Louisiana, Troy

Eliminated: (2) Georgia State, Texas State

Work to Do: (3) Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama

The Sun Belt has been the most improved conference in the FBS over the last five years in my opinion. The upper tier has become surprisingly consistent, and there are not nearly the number of non-competitive teams as there once was. All five bowl eligible teams have formed quite the top tier year in and year out. If the SBC can get at least two of the three remaining contenders to make a bowl, this is quite the year for the Belt.

ARST (4-6): at Texas State, South Alabama

ULM (4-6): at Arkansas, Louisiana

USA (4-6): Georgia State, at Arkansas State

All three teams out of the West who do not have their postseason status settled will need two wins apiece to join the rest of the bowl-eligible in the SBC. ULM has a very tough road, facing an SEC squad, along with the division winner. It will be tough for the Warhawks to come through. Arkansas State and South Alabama have easier opponents next up. If they can both convert on those opportunities, they will both face off, with the loser’s season ending. The winner will get the chance at a postseason. But, wins this week come first and foremost. PREDICTION: Arky State comes through in the clutch; ULM and the Jags go home

Independents

Bowl Eligible: (2) Liberty, Notre Dame

Eliminated: (3) New Mexico State, UConn, UMass

Work to Do: (2) Army, BYU

The Independents are not too much alike. But, the teams at the bottom of the FBS are eliminated, as expected. Liberty has enjoyed a successful season, and ND is performing quite well, also as expected. Army and BYU may be both a bit underwhelming, but getting to a bowl will not stall progress nearly like a season without a postseason might. Facing teams in non-conference games down the stretch may help their cause.

ARMY (5-4): at UMass, at UConn, vs. Navy

BYU (5-5): North Alabama, at Stanford

If Army loses their next 2 games, the bowl committee might tear their hair out. But, Army really should not have any business losing those two games. Navy will be tough, but the fellow northeastern independents should be very doable. BYU has an extremely easy game this weekend, and if they lose this one, they really don’t deserve to get to a bowl. PREDICTION: The Cougars and Black Knights both take care of business.

So there you have it. Here is the current breakdown:

2020 Bowl Spots: 84

Current Bowl Eligible Teams: 68

Teams Eliminated from Postseason: 32

Teams with Work to Do: 30

Bowl Spots Remaining: 16

So we have 30 teams playing for 16 spots. Whatever happens, this should be right on the cut line one way or the other. For what it’s worth, my predictions say we will end up with 85 bowl teams. This would mean it’s all coming down to bowl tie-ins and invites, which could be nerve-wracking for some. I will continue to keep an eye on this after this weekend, but there is so much intrigue heading into the the end of the regular season. As always, be sure to check our scores page for your team’s latest updates!

-Scott

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